I’m not one for exotic vacations. Don’t get me wrong, I think the earth is beautiful and there are lots of places that I enjoy visiting. But my favorite place, pretty much in the entire world, is Disneyland. I know that part of my obsession is a nostalgia thing, because I grew up going there every year with my family. There’s also another part of it that is just pure love. I love everything about the park, from the smells to the music to the attractions. One of the first things I did when I became a legal adult was buy myself a year-round Disneyland pass. For lots of years I went there 4-8 times per year. I know! It was overkill probably. But when have I ever been subtle about anything?? (The answer is never.) Because of my increase in attendance as an adult, I sort of made an art out of conquering Disneyland in a day. Even though lots of people visit for more than a day at a time, my guide is helpful, especially for first-timers or those going with big groups that include small children. There’s lots included in this guide, including the best places to eat and take photos. In my opinion, food and selfie lighting is every bit as important as riding all the attractions.
To get the most out of your Disney day, arrive at the gates anywhere between 15-30 minutes early. The earlier you arrive, the greater the chance is that you will be selected to open the park, which is a really fun thing to do, if you’re interested in leading hundreds of guests in a “LET THE MEMORIES BEGIN” cheer (honestly who wouldn’t be interested?). When the gates open, you want head straight to Fantasyland. This is the most crowded land in the park due to limited space, and the amount of children that visit the park. The further into the day you get, the more crowded Fantasyland becomes. It can be a major time suck if you don’t get it done at the beginning of the day when the lines are the shortest. The ride you want to hit up first is Peter Pan’s Flight. It is one of the most popular attractions in the park, and due to the fact that there is no Fast Pass available, lines are almost always long for this ride. If you don’t ride it early in the day, you will likely wait at least 45 minutes. Since this is a safe space I will admit to you that one of the only times you will ever see me do anything close to jogging is when i am heading to the Peter Pan ride at the beginning of my Disney day. To give you some context, the other time you will see me running is if someone is trying to murder me. That’s how important Peter Pan is! Here is the order in which you should ride the attractions in Fantasyland, based on what gets most crowded throughout the day:
1 PETER PAN’S FLIGHT
4 ALICE IN WONDERLAND
5 MR TOAD’S WILD RIDE
6 STORYBOOK LAND CANAL BOATS
7 MAD TEA PARTY
8 CASEY JR’S TRAIN
9 KING ARTHUR’S CAROUSEL
10 SNOW WHITE’S SCARY ADVENTURE
11 PINOCCIO’S DARING JOURNEY
12 IT’S A SMALL WORLD (I put this last because it is further away from all the other fantasyland attractions. From what I’ve learned, you’re better off doing 1-10 and then walking over to small world, hitting that up on the way into Toon Town, which is arguably the worst land of all. It is great for taking pictures, there’s lots of fun scenery in there. There are just two attractions in Toon Town, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Roger Rabbit’s CarToon Spin. Both are fun, but not a must in my opinion. If you want to have an interactive meet and greet with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, or Goofy, Toon Town is the place to do it. Keep in mind these characters also hang out on Main Street, but their “houses” (yes, actual homes) are in Toon Town. They’re fun to walk through and there’s lots of cute places to take pics, but it can be a waste of time if you’re trying to beat the rush in the rest of the park.
After Fantasyland, head to Tomorrowland to do Space Mountain and Star Tours. The Tomorrowland theater is located next to Space Mountain, and it usually plays short 4D movies. Right now it’s playing a Star Wars: Path to the Jedi. It’s great to do things like this when you’re tired and want a break, so save these types of things for mid-afternoon, or later at night when you’ve ridden everything. If nothing else, it’s a 15 min break in an air conditioned room, who’s going to argue with that? The building formerly known as Innoventions is now Star Wars Launch Bay. Inside there’s Marvel stuff, like Iron Man and Thor, and Star Wars characters which i think is really cool but I would focus on those kinds of character meet and greets later in the day, after you’ve hit the rides. It’s time consuming and can be done when other parts of the park get crowded. Here’s the order in which you should do Tomorrowland:
1 SPACE MOUNTAIN (FP- this indicates that Fast Pass is an option for this attraction)
2 STAR WARS (FP)
3 FINDING NEMO
4 ASTRO ORBITER (Basically just a faster version of Dumbo. Also, be aware that the rockets are much smaller than the Dumbo elephants are, so be cautious of this. I once got stuck in one and had to get off the ride. Then i started crying over by the Buzz Lightyear ride because it was so humiliating. Man, I am a Good-Time Sally! But seriously I’m just making you aware of that because I wish someone would have alerted me before I tried to squeeze my belly in there. I learn from these things so you don’t have to.)
5 BUZZ LIGHTYEAR ASTRO BLASTERS
After Tomorrowland, head to Adventureland and do Indiana Jones(FP). It’s one of the best attractions and wait times can be 90 minutes long at certain points during the day. Fast Passes are available for this ride so if you hit it at a bad time you can always utilize that feature. While you’re over there, I would hit the Jungle Cruise up. It’s not the best ride, but it is classic Disney and rarely has a long wait time. I don’t ride it every time i go, but it’s nostalgic and there’s really good selfie lighting on the boats due to the overhead shade situation. Adventureland is also home to the Tiki Room where you can get a Dole Whip, which is arguably the best treat in the whole park. Save that for a time when lines are busy and it’s hot. It’s a 15 minute escape in an air conditioned room, plus pineapple floats! And singing birds! Man, I really get turnt in the Tiki Room. Aladdin’s Oasis is also over by the Tiki Room, and during certain times of the day Aladdin, Genie, Jasmine, or Jafar are there and you can get pictures with them. Tarzan’s Treehouse is a cool thing to do if you want to pass out and fall down 17 flights of stairs. It does have some really cool photo ops in it though, so it’s worth doing when the park gets crowded and you have time to kill, or if you want to step up your selfie game. I wouldn’t waste valuable ride time on it though. My favorite store in the whole park is located across from the Jungle Cruise. I’ve bought tons of cool things for my house there. Plus, you know, Indiana Jones hats.
From there, head to New Orleans square and do Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion (FP). Pick which one you do first depending on what the wait times are. These rides sometimes alternate being busy. I personally have never waited longer than 20 minutes for Pirates, but with the parks being as crowded as they are now, it’s a possibility. The boats hold a lot of people and there are always a lot in rotation so even if the line looks long it moves fast. If there are two lines open, ALWAYS CHOOSE THE RIGHT SIDE. Choose the right, guys, when the Pirates line is placed before you! The line on the left side winds around the side of the building and is SO MUCH longer than the line on the right side. Even if you can’t see where the line winds, just trust me. I love this ride. It’s about 15 minutes long, which is a nice break from standing on your feet. I ride it multiple times each visit. After those two rides, head to Frontierland which is pretty much the dumbest of all the lands because it has just one ride. I digress. Thunder Mountain(FP) is a good rollercoaster, and it just got a makeover so it is even better than it used to be. Lines for this one will get longer as the day goes on, but you can always utilize the Fast Pass option if you hit it at a busy time.
Now you will head to Critter Country! If you want to ride Splash Mountain, I would wait until the end of the night to do so because you will get soaked. I just don’t know anyone who doesn’t get soaked. I know people who say they don’t get soaked but they are lying. I don’t even mind getting soaked as I mind trying to speed walk in wet clothes for the following two hours. This ride is always the last thing I do at the park before heading back to the hotel. Sometimes I will do it mid-day before I head back to the hotel for a nap, and sometimes I wait until the end of the night. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride is over by Splash Mountain and is adorable and really cold inside if you need to cool down. It almost never has a wait time at all. I think the longest I’ve ever waited is four minutes. It’s kinda sad actually. It will take you about three hours to do what I’ve mentioned here, so you can have all of these rides ridden by noon if you don’t stop for pictures or shopping. Time management is key!!
As far as character meet and greet spots go, there are a few throughout the park where characters often hang out. The classic Disney characters are always on Main Street. Alice in Wonderland characters are usually walking around Fantasyland or hanging out by the Mad Tea Party. The Princess Fantasy Faire is located up by the castle and is a really cool place to get pictures with various princesses. The Winnie the Pooh characters are out in front of their ride. Star Wars characters, and sometimes Marvel superheroes are in the Tomorrowland Launch Bay. All characters are out daily, but times vary so you will want to check the pamphlet you get at the entrance to verify which times you can see your favorite characters.
Disneyland has the best nighttime shows, fireworks, and parades. If you’re interested in seeing those during your visit, the times will be listed in the pamphlet. Fantasmic is showing again in New Orleans Square, with new scenes. I always enjoyed the old one so I’m sure the new one is just as great. The Main Street Electrical Parade is back, so I think that is a must-see. The fireworks show is awesome and is also a must-see. The fireworks can be seen from all kinds of places throughout the park, but the best place to watch them is in front of the castle because images are projected onto it. That’s the hardest spot to get and will require lots of waiting. My favorite place to watch the parade is down by Small World. Good seats for these things usually require waiting. By that time in the day, you may welcome a sit down. Just get a corn dog/popcorn/ mickey pretzel/churro and a coke and relax. If you will be visiting the park for more than one day and can take a break in the middle of the day to go back to your hotel, I suggest doing so. I always head back to my hotel around 1-3 pm and rest for 2-4 hours. Then head back at 6:00 for the night time stuff. At that time, I will also ride some things for a second or third time if I can. It’s a different experience at night.
Here are some other tips to get the most out of your visit. I tried to make this as reader friendly as possible, but it was hard to cram all this info into one post!
FOOD I LIKE IN DISNEYLAND: (“$” indicates cost, “SS”= self seating, “TS”= Table Service aka waiters/waitresses, *=takes reservations. I have also indicated which menu items i like the most at each spot.)
Bengal BBQ, Adventureland ($) (SS)- snacks- Tiger Tail Breadsticks, Chieftain Chicken Skewer
Blue Bayou, New Orleans Square* ($$$) (TS)- lunch and dinner- Monte Cristo
Café Orleans, New Orleans Square* ($$) (TS)- lunch, dinner- Pommes Frites, Three-Cheese Monte Cristo, Mickey-shaped Beignets
Carnation Café, Main Street* ($$) (W)- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner ($$) Ham & Cheese Omelet, Sourdough Bacon Cheese Melt, Main Street Cheeseburger, Chicken Fried Chicken, Fried Pickles.
Eidelweiss snacks, Fantasyland ($) (SS)-snacks- Chimichanga
French Market, New Orleans Square ($$) (SS)- lunch, dinner, snacks- French Dip Sandwich, Louisiana Beef Stew
Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, Main Street ($) (SS)- snacks- Coke Float, various sundaes
Golden Horseshoe/Stagedoor Cafe, Frontierland ($) (SS)- lunch, dinner, snacks- Corn Dog, Mozzarella Sticks, Chicken Strips.
Jolly Holiday Café, Main Street ($$) (SS)- breakfast, lunch, dinner- Matterhorn Macaroon
Little Red Wagon, Main Street ($) (SS)- lunch, dinner, snack- Corn Dogs
Maurice’s Treats, Fantasyland ($) (SS)-snacks- Cheddar Garlic Bagel Twist, Boysen Apple Freeze
Mint Julep Bar, New Orleans Square ($) (SS)-Mickey beignets, Mint Julep
Refreshment Corner, Main Street ($) (SS)-lunch, dinner, snacks- Mickey Pretzel and Cheese
Riverbelle Terrace, New Orleans Square/Frontierland*- breakfast, lunch, dinner ($$)(W)-Pimento Cheese Dip, Fried Chicken Sandwich
Tiki Juice Bar, Adventureland ($) (SS)-snacks- Dole Whip, Dole Whip float
Tropical Imports, Adventureland ($) (SS)-snacks- Big Pickle, Pineapple Spear
Troubadour Tavern, Fantasyland ($) (SS)-snacks, lunch, dinner- Pretzel Bites, Popcorn
BEST PLACES TO TAKE NON-CHARACTER PICS IN DISNEYLAND:
-Lattice wall after entrance tunnel, on both right and left sides
-In the middle of the street with the castle in the background
-At the plaza inn or jolly holiday café with Matterhorn in the background
-In front of the castle
-By the Walt and mickey statue, lots of good flowers
-Alice spots- Cheshire Cat, in front of teacups, White Rabbit statue by the bathrooms, benches outside the bathrooms
-Sword in the Stone in front of the carousel
-Dumbo- on the ride and on the Dumbo outside the ride
-Mr. toad’s car
-Blue and white small world wall
-Lattice walls in the Small World courtyard
-Troubadour tavern- lots of trees there, good background and lighting
-Mark Twain riverboat (I always get a Mickey pretzel and eat it on the upper decks of the Mark Twain. It’s never crowded and it’s shaded. Good lighting and escape from the heat.
-In front of Big Thunder
-In front of the Rivers of America, lots of pretty flowers and good backgrounds
-On the Jungle Cruise, outside the Jungle Cruise
-Outside the Tiki Room
-Rocks outside the bathrooms
New Orleans Square
-Down the alleyways, cool benches with cool windows in the background
-Benches in front of Haunted Mansion
-Villain heads and alleyways by the Haunted Mansion shop
-Benches over by Splash Mountain
I hope this guide has been helpful for you, and I hope that it makes your next visit to Disneyland a little better. For those of you wanting to do both parks in one day, I believe this is possible, but a bit tricky. With the parks being as busy as they are right now, I would suggest starting in Disneyland and going the route outlined above. I would break for California Adventure around noon or so. You can get all things done in CA in about four hours, which would mean you could head back to Disneyland by 4:00 or 5:00… the only issue being potential long wait times for Radiator Springs Racers. If you’re doing both parks in one day you’ll also have to decide which parades/nighttime shows you participate in. You can’t be at World of Color AND the fireworks show at Disneyland, you feel me? The advantage of doing multiple days at the park is that you can take a break in the day. That break is sometimes life-saving. It also ensures that you can see all the characters you want to see, take all the pictures you want, eat all the foods, and see the nighttime shows you want to see. I do have a guide for California Adventure as well, but I thought it a bit overwhelming to post along with all this information here. I may post it sometime in the future for those who are interested!
Downtown Disney is a fun place to shop and get food. It is located between the parks and the Disney hotels. There is a huge Disney store that is really fun and has tons of merchandise. Almost all the merch you see throughout the parks can be found in that store. There’s also a very awesome art store and some cool clothing stores in Downtown Disney. The best part about it is the food though (big shocker). I’ve made a list of my favorite places to eat there, in case anyone is interested.
Naples-lunch/dinner (fave pizza of all time) ($$) (Napolini is a little to-go place next door to it that sells slices if you don’t want to wait for a table to order a fresh pizza. Both are good but I would suggest ordering it fresh.)
ESPN Zone- lunch/dinner ($$)
Tortilla Jo’s- lunch/dinner ($$)
Earl of Sandwich- breakfast/lunch/dinner ($)
Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Café- breakfast (in the to-go section) ($)
La Brea Bakery- breakfast ($)
Good luck and happy travels! Eat a corn dog for me!